Underground Hip Hop

Meet Blackalicious.

Blackalicious is MC Gift of Gab and DJ Chief Xcel. The underground Bay Area hip hop duo met back in 1987 while T. Parker (Gab) and Xavier Mosley (Xcel) were students at the University of California at Davis. (Yep, they're also members of the Solesides/Quannum crew with DJ Shadow and Latryx.) Soon after, they started Blackalicious. The rest is, well, history.

It started with two EP's, 1995's Melodica and A2G in (1999). Then last month, Blackalicious finally released their debut full-length, Nia (that's Swahili for "purpose"). With swirling hip hop beats and jazzy rhythms courtesy of Chief Xcel, and Gift of Gab's genius lyrical musings, Nia might just blow Blackalicious up , clean outta the underground.

Forever bringing you the coolest new music, we caught up with Gab and Xcel to chat about their new album, Puffy and why Blackalicious is good hip hop music. They thought our questions were pretty ill, too.

When did you first know you wanted to be involved with music?

Gift of Gab: I think that it was a natural progression. I knew I wanted to rhyme when I heard "Rappers Delight" and "The Breaks," 'cause I used to just sit and play those songs [when] I was a little kid. I'd play 'em over and over and over again. But I really didn't write my first rhyme until [I met my friend's cousin.] He w ould co me over to our building and he used to cap on us all the time, rapping off the top of his head and [he would] just, like, destroy everybody. So I was like, 'wait a minute I could do that.' So me and my friend would write rhymes and go to his house, knock on his door and just battle him. And he'd kill us every time. [Then] I moved out to Sacramento for a while and really developed my battling skills and came back out. And it was dope because then he was giving me props.

Do you think rap is held more responsible for being socially conscious than other types of music like rock or pop?

Xcel: That's an interesting question. Yeah, I think it is in the sense that I feel like hip hop artists are more clear cut visible and attainable and accessible than any other genre of music. So I think as a result, people do expect them to be more responsible.

Gab: And also, rappers speak more from a speaking-talking-to-you perspective-- I think more so than singers.

Is the indie rap scene a close-knit scene?

Gab: Right now it is. Right now it's really dope because you've got groups like Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Planet Asia, us, Hieroglyphics. It's dope because it's a really good vibe going on out here now because everybody's supporting each other. Everybody's really behind each other on what they do.

What's something you hope people will get from your music?

Xcel: We really just strive to lead people with positive [jams] that they can use some way in their day-to-day lives, through our artistry. I mean, the bottom line with our album Nia is it's about purpose and it's about maintaining your sense of purpose and your sense of self no matter what you may going through. So, if they don't get anything else from the album I'd hope that they would get that.

Describe your music to someone who listens to stuff like Puffy.

Gab: Our music is music for thought and music for the soul. [And you] can dance to it too. Comparing it to Puffy and stuff like that, whatever he's doing is cool, but you can move to our music and it's hard core hip hop. It's also music for the soul and music for the mind. More so than Puffy's music.

Xcel: I wouldn't even attempt to describe it to a person. I would rather that person pick up a pair of headphones and just listen to it and make their own judgment of what they feel it is and how it touches them. I think too often people get caught up in categorization and into describing things and I think that's a major problem because a lot of people can't really judge things for themselves --they judge things based on what's been dictated to them. "This music is this," well with that description all kinds of connotations can come with it. So listen to the music and judge it for yourself.

Any tips or advice for any readers who are looking to break into the hip hop scene?

Gab: Learn every aspect of what you do. You know, if you want to be an MC, learn the fundamentals of that and then create your own voice. Travel the path less traveled; work the path less traveled. If you want to be on the business end, get your education and educate yourself and learn every aspect of what it is that you do so that you can strive to be the best and you can add something to this global community of hip hop.

If you weren't involved with music what would you be doing now?

Gab: I'd be in the peace corps. I'd be over in some country ... Nah, I'm just kidding. I can't say that 'cause this is all I know. This is my experience so I don't really think about too much else. You know what I mean?

Who's someone out now that you really admire in music?

Gab: D'Angelo, Planet Asia, Prince Paul.

Xcel: Ruben Gonzalez, QuincyJones, Tito Puente. I mean, the list goes on, We're fans of this music. From a rap perspective I would say people like De La Soul, Dr. Dre, you know people who throughout the course of rap have proven longevity. People who have built careers. That's very important, you know, that an artist not only be able to make one dope album but make a body of work that's dope. We have a lot of people musically that we have deep respect for.

If you could switch places with anyone -- doesn't have to be music-related -- who would it be?

Xcel: That's an ill question. I would probably say Moses. I would have wanted to be there when God just parted the Red Sea. That would have been dope.

Gab: I would say ... damn there's too many people, too many people. Do they have to be alive?


Gab: Bob Marley

Complete the following statement. Blackalicious is ________________.

Gab: Good hip hop music!


Who else is bubbling over from the underground hip hop scene? Jurassic 5 and Anti-Pop Consortium, to name two.

Jurassic 5
Formed: 1993
Representing: Los Angeles
Crew: Chali 2NA, Zaaki, Akil, Mac 7, Cut Chemist, DJ Nu-Mark
Briefly: With four supreme MCs a nd two rockin' DJ's feeding the beats, Jurassic 5 mix it up with a bit of old school and new school flava-the best of both worlds.
Watch out for: Their upcoming album Quality Control. Jurassic will also be bringing their dynamic live show to the main stage at Warped this year.

Anti-Pop Consortium
Formed: 1997
Representing: New York City
Crew: Priest, Beans, M. Sayyid, E. Blaize
Briefly: Their mantra is "disturb the equilibrium." Their style is hip hop of the experimental variety. With three MC poets and the slick beats of E. Bliaze , Anti-Pop Consortium fight the good fight against the "evil empire" hip hop has become.
Watch out for: Their debut album, Tragic Epilogue, out now.


Is your CD collection a joke? No worries; we're here to help. We asked Blackalicious to recommend some cool CDs for the ultimate rap/hip hop collection. They went off, naming like 25 albums. We know you're kinda low on flow so we narrowed the list down to the best of the best.

N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton (1988, Priority), Niggaz4life (1991, Priority)

A Tribe Called Quest People's Instinctive Travels (1990, Jive), Low End Theory (1991, Jive), Midnight Marauders (1993, Jive)

Eric B. & Rakim Paid In Full (1987, Island)

Compton's Most Wanted Music To Drive By (1992, Sony)

E-40 In A Major Way (1995, Jive)

Big Daddy Kane Long Live The Kane (1988, Warner Bros.)

Brand Nubian One For All (1990, Elektra)

De La Soul Three Feet High & Rising (1989, Tommy Boy)

Public Enemy It Takes A Nation of Millions (1988,Def Jam)

Del The Funky Homosapien I Wish My Brother George Was Here(1991, Elektra)

This article originally appeared on Katrillion.com.

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